Posts Tagged ‘branding’

US Airways Still Hasn’t Checked in on Tech Trends

December 28th, 2010

At the Blog Aesthetic, our articles are inspired by current events, public affairs, the latest celeb flubs, or anything else with an interesting PR twist.  And, sometimes, serendipity is our muse.

Today’s topic evolved from real-life travel events, namely in trying to check-in via mobile phone for a US Airways flight.  You’d think that mobile check-in capability would be standard for major airlines today.  Indeed, American, Delta, Continental, United, JetBlue, and Southwest all offer this feature to travelers.

As for US Airways… unless you fly out of Las Vegas (see below), you’re out of luck.

This is sad for several reasons.  First, one of the earliest and prominent mentions of this technology was a USA Today article … in 2007! Right now we’re only three days away from 2011, and US Airways remains firmly grounded on integrating mobile check-in technology.

Second, every single major competitor offers this service, so it should be safe to rule out technological hurdles.  In seeking good PR, businesses must promote a characteristic that positively distinguishes them from the competition.  For US Airways, this is hard negative distinction that no company should tolerate.

Third, if an airline can’t keep up with simple tech trends like this, what does that communicate about their brand and corporate ethos?

Fourth, steer your eyes back to the image.  Tech-savvy folks will notice an iPhone 3 is the example phone, a product that is already behind the iPhone 4.  This glitch adds more momentum to the idea of US Airways being out-of-touch on tech trends.

And lastly, it’s one thing for a company to acknowledge a deficiency and take steps to correct it.  It’s another for the company to peddle a “nothing to see here” attitude, or exaggerate the truth.  For US Airways, take a gander at their Twitter feed, where a recent status update exclaims they have “mobile tools for boarding passes” – which we now know is a fib unless, of course, you are in Las Vegas.  And only flying out of Las Vegas.  Too bad the airline is rolling the dice on staying in touch.

Brand Recap: TLC – Um, What Exactly Am I “Learning”?

November 2nd, 2010

Branding an operation, company, product, or service requires serious considerations.  One is to never impose a brand that insults your target market’s collective intelligence.  Products such as KFC’s Double Down are prime examples of really bad branding, as the name actually asks the consumer to be stupid – that is, to “double down” on fat, cholesterol, salt, calories, poor health, and disgusting flavor.

In our quest to advocate a better media aesthetic, we’ve commented on content programming that really scrapes bottom.  Sadly, the nonsense continues to spread, delivering deceptive brands that even the most cunning totalitarian propaganda machine would admire.

Consider the Discovery Channel, a cable network that offers informative, interesting content laced with witty flavor.  Shows like “Mythbusters” and “Dirty Jobs” deliver engaging stories and soften the edge with a tongue-in-cheek approach.  This sets a positive tone for the Discovery Channel and helps viewers bond with the brand.

But Discovery has another horse in its stable, one that threatens its brand equity in the long run.

We’re talking about the cable network The Learning Channel, a subsidiary of the Discovery Channel.  As a brand analysis, let’s think about that name for a second.  Presumably, it’s all about “learning” – right?  Or maybe not, since the network parades the cuddly “TLC” acronym instead.  Judging from its programming, you’re bound to learn something… we think.  Here are some TLC shows:

• “19 Kids and Counting.”  Don’t confuse it with its predecessors, “17 Kids and Counting” and “18 Kids and Counting.”  Here, TLC teaches us about a world where contraception apparently doesn’t exist and procreation resembles sport.

• “Kate Plus 8.”  Also not to be confused with its predecessor, “Jon & Kate Plus 8.”  Again, what’s with this “we need more kids” theme?  And how does TLC feel about the off-screen train wreck these parents have become?

• “Toddlers & Tiaras.”  It’s one thing to parade families with lots of kids on TV; it’s another to underwrite the pathetic, disgusting, and shameless exploitation of toddlers by their morally-challenged parents.  There is simply no defense for this show, it appeals to every crass instinct of society and crams it into a televised format.

• “Property Ladder.”  Even if it means well, this show is horribly inconsistent with current economic reality and the crushing burden of mortgages and foreclosures millions of American families face.  As a show that gives tips on how to flip homes for investment and profit, “Property Ladder” makes TLC appear incredibly tone deaf to the plight of homeowners and the housing crisis nationwide.

The point is that branding goes beyond a particular institution itself, it colors perceptions on everything associated with it.  If you don’t believe that, consider the brand disasters affecting Phusion Projects (maker of “Four Loko”) and Gap (now stuck between Old Navy and Banana Republic).  In that sense, Discovery won’t have to look too far if TLC really steps in it one day.

Ask Yourself, What Does Your Brand Mean to You?

October 29th, 2010

Not to get too New Age-y, but… if there’s one piece of advice we can offer about branding as a business strategy, it is this:

Always resist the temptation to sell your brand short.

Each and every time you interact with customers, clients, potential new business, or any other element of company growth strategy, once the conversation is over, all that’s left is your brand.  If you knock down your standing, negotiate with too low of a bar, are too self-deprecating, then that will haunt your business prospects.

Believe in what your brand is worth, and understand the power of that stance when it comes to public relations.

The Next Hub of Innovation Is … Chattanooga?

September 14th, 2010

Bravo to Chattanooga!  (Disclaimer: our president graduated from Vanderbilt, so the Blog Aesthetic has a soft spot for Tennessee!)  The city, famous for … er, take your pick, now has a new claim to fame:

1GB per second internet service!

Let’s put that in everyday terms.  If you want to download a song from iTunes, for example, the process would be complete in the time it takes to blink your eyes.  An entire Blu-ray disc’s content would get zapped to you in about 3 minutes.

Of course, the current $350 per month price tag surely puts the service out of reach to, well, just about everyone.  But that price will certainly drop over time, as it did for other services (consider that a decade ago, AOL monthly rates were significantly greater than options today).

In the meantime, the symbolic effect of Chattanooga’s new service is significant.  Combined with the new Volkswagen plant and SimCenter engineering lab, the city is poised to brand itself as the next great corridor of technology and innovation.  A smart public relations strategy will consistently link these three elements together to promote the city as a hub for tech investment and activity.  With a little luck, the city will attract the kind of investment that will boost the local economy and make the name “Chattanooga” resonate with cutting-edge trends and thinking.

And that, friends, is how thought leadership in-a-bottle is done.

Forget iPhone 4 Antenna Problems — Apple Needs Better Message on Conflict Minerals

July 2nd, 2010

Apple laid down the gauntlet to the PC in its infamous 1984 commercial announcing its new Macintosh.  Thirty years later, Apple now dominates Microsoft as world’s most valuable technology company.  Apple’s almost religious adherence to branding has paid tremendous dividends (with that customer loyalty helping CEO Steve Jobs and his company slide past PR scandal after scandal).

As part of its hip, edgy brand, Jobs has taken to answering customers’ questions over rapid-fire email.  It’s seen as yet another way that Jobs outclasses the erratic Steve Ballmer of Microsoft – whose spastic on-stage appearances are far more interesting than whatever Microsoft product he’s peddling at the time.

Recently, Jobs responded to a question about “conflict minerals” and whether Apple responsibly sources the minerals in its products.  For companies not paying attention, conflict minerals are the next blood diamonds.  There is an international movement afoot, led by activist groups in the UK and US, that is going to name and shame companies sourcing minerals primarily from the Democratic Republic of Congo – home to the world’s bloodiest ongoing conflict since World War II.  A special report by a UN group of investigators took the extraordinary step of outing several US tech companies with links to the DRC.  And even New York Times influential columnist Nicholas Kristof has moved on from Darfur to make conflict minerals and the DRC his new cause.

Perhaps Jobs is unaware of this movement, as the answer he gave a customer on this issue is not going to cut it:

“We require all of our suppliers to certify in writing that they use conflict few materials.  But honestly there is no way for them to be sure.  Until someone invents a way to chemically trace minerals from the source mine, it’s a very difficult problem.”

In Jobs’ defense, he’s technically correct.  There is no international certification for the sourcing of conflict minerals such as the Kimberly Process for blood diamonds.  However, there are groups that can help Apple and other companies clean up their supply chain and practice proper CSR.  Perhaps more importantly, Jobs could at least act like he cared more about the issue beyond calling it “difficult.”  And then there is the strange use of the word “few” rather than “free.” Conflict-few may be a concept Jobs is pioneering but the global pressure campaign will not be centered on achieving “conflict-few” minerals – it will call for an outright ban on minerals from DRC and start linking specific companies to the ongoing bloodshed.

With his inadequate response to a very serious question, Jobs stumbled into a major international issue and Apple is now square in the sights of activist groups.  As with any major global crisis, smart messaging on conflict minerals requires a concerted, ethical, and engaging PR effort to explain a company’s positions.  Quick emails won’t suffice.

$61 Million Branding Disaster, Made in the USA

May 13th, 2010

(Note: this post is a follow-up to the last post on the branding of the Bund Bull).

The World Expo probably isn’t the first event you think of for international branding opportunities.  Compare the Olympics, World Cup and Davos, for example.  Still, that didn’t stop China from pulling out all stops with this year’s World Expo in Shanghai – the country spent more on the event than it did hosting the Beijing Olympics.

Why did the Chinese want to make such a big splash with the World Expo?  Simple – they realized this is a major branding platform, with journalists and influentials from all over the world in attendance.  More importantly, it offered a chance to dwarf previous Expos and show how China does international events.

Of course, we must remember that it’s not the “China Expo” but rather the “World Expo” – which means each country gets to participate by building a pavilion that represents cultural contribution.  Think of it as “international day” at your kid’s elementary school, on steroids.  Companies from each country usually sponsor the pavilion and the multi-media presentations.  There are some stunning entries this year with regard to design.  We think England wins for most, ah, angular.  The Dutch pavilion looks like something out of a Tim Burton film.

And then there’s the USA, which assembled a $61 million corrugated tin monstrosity meant to represent … America’s tool sheds?  More depressing than the woeful design outside are the overpriced and underwhelming productions taking place inside.  Contracted to BRC Imagination Arts, reports show $23 million spent on the inside presentation and on three five-minute movies that have questionable production quality and messaging.  The Hurt Locker was cheaper to make per minute and won the Oscar for Best Picture.  Sadly, this pavilion is meant to “showcase the best America has to offer.”

The lesson: even for a nation, branding is important.  While outsourcing your national brand to a conglomeration is fiscally prudent, it also inhibits the element of oversight and accountability for the final product.  Allowing unsupervised vendors to run the show and present what they perceive as “the USA” to the world can have disastrous results.

Similarly, companies and organizations must always make sure to work with marketing and PR teams when managing their own brands.  If you skimp on either the time or expense associated with amassing brand equity, you’ll end up with scraps … maybe of discarded tin that you too can use to build an unattractive pavilion.  Just sayin’…

Next Expo, the US should hire PR specialists with brand experience to oversee the project.  When you have the chance to present yourself on the global stage, there’s no room for error – shine, and the whole world shines with you!